You won't Believe These 6 Lessons Clickbait Teaches Us About Content

This blog was originally written for Right Foot Forward Marketing and Web Design

We have all been on the hook of a disappointing article baited with a headline we just could not resist. We have all found ourselves un-shocked, unmoved, and unamused by clickbait pieces shared by our “friends” on Facebook. Clickbait is today’s yellow journalism, relying on sensational headlines to drive traffic to websites usually laden with advertisements. Like a worm on a hook, clickbait content generally fails to yield the return the title promised.

Yet, there are lessons to be learned from the rise of internet clickbait, and in clickbait-form we have compiled a list of six such lessons:

1) We are easily manipulated

Clickbait relies on the curiosity gap, providing just enough information in the headline to make the reader curious, enticing him to click the link. An example from Upworthy:

Something great happened when a group put $40 on a bulletin board in a crowded L.A. train station.

Don’t you just have to know what happened to that $40? Upworthy specializes in scouring the internet for “share-worthy” content, giving that content curious headlines, and generating millions of views. On their own blog, Upworthy said, “[Our] curators come up with 25 headlines for every single nugget they want to post.” Their strategy is effective. More than 50 million users engage with the site every month. Why? We are easily manipulated. We want to know the rest of the story.

Check out Upworthy’s incredibly fun and self-aware Upworth-headline-generator.

2) We like nostalgia

We like to reminisce about the good ol’ days. Nothing helps us remember the simpler times like a list of things on 90's kids remember, or with which people from North Carolina will undoubtedly identify.

3) We still care about content

Buzzfeed did not invent clickbait, but they are certainly synonymous with it. However, according to their editor-in-chief Ben Smith, Buzzfeed has been out of the clickbait business for six years. He quotes the Verge’s Nilay Patel’s description of Buzzfeed’s mission:

“Most clickbait is disappointing because it’s a promise of value that isn’t met — the payoff isn’t nearly as good as what the reader imagines,” Patel said. “BuzzFeed headlines pay off particularly well because they actually make fairly small promises and then overdeliver.”

Whether or not you agree that Buzzfeed itself over-delivers, what gets “shared” on social media is interesting content. If you follow a clickbait link that makes you feel like a proverbial fish on a hook, you are not likely to share that content with your friends. This is good news however, because it means that content still matters. For the small business owner, you do not have to sacrifice expertise in your content for vapid, flashy nonsense. If you are an HVAC expert, keep sharing good HVAC content that will benefit your readers.

4) We want quick reads

Clickbait articles are often pithy. They also include headers, pictures, bullet points, and other features that break up the monotony of the text.

  • We do not have to write and share lengthy content for every blog and article.
  • People like and share short reads.
  • If you have more to say, break it up over a couple of posts.

5) We don’t mind reading the same thing twice

Recently I read a clickbaitish article about waterfalls in North Carolina. A few weeks later, I read another article from the same site about waterfalls in North Carolina. While reading the second article I remembered that I had recently read the first. Even though the articles were similar, the content was interesting enough that I did not mind reading about the same subject twice.

For small business owners, it is not good to copy and paste old content, but recycling and rewriting previous posts can can help further educate your clients. We need the same reminders about why our A/C might not work when we first turn it on at the start of summer. We need reminders about what flowers work best for autumn decorations every fall.

6) We cannot ignore social media

The Ice Bucket Challenge became a viral sensation during 2014, raising over $200 million for the ALS Association and other related charities. The whole campaign started with a dare for people to dump buckets of ice on their heads and donate money to charity . Its success highlights the power of social media.

As I noted in a previous post, social media is a competitive outlet for your content; however, it’s not to be ignored. Interesting content can be seen and will be shared. Clickbait articles receive the vast majority of their views from social media. You do not have to resort to writing clickbait blogs (though including a little mystery in your titles is helpful), but it is good for your business and brand to be active on social media. While easier said than done, creating interesting and shareable content will maximize your impact.